We Welcome Gil Tisnado:
Galaxy Nostalgia Network is pleased to welcome Gil Tisnado as a regular contributor to our blog posts. Gil's wonderful stories of his life, from his childhood to his adult years have charmed readers who regularly see his stories on Facebook. His ability to engage readers within his stories makes you feel you were right there with him. As a fellow baby boomer, we can relate to many of the nostalgic anecdotes he shares with us. Here, Gil introduces himself, and tells us how he began writing about his life. He follows with the first of his stories, "A Movie Kind of Love".
I think I may have always been a writer, but just never realized it. When I was a boy, I swore that when I grew up, I would write a tell-all book about all the things I witnessed in our home and couldn’t reveal. “Don’t tell the family business” was our daily affirmation. My book would become a mega-best seller, just like Peyton Place. But somehow that idea got pushed aside about the same time I started appearing in “Tiny Town Ranch” a weekly live TV children’s variety show in San Diego for three years. However, at thirteen, I was a show biz has-been.
At fourteen, I fell in love with my high school sweetheart who would later become my wife. Suddenly I was a husband and teenage dad at seventeen. Miraculously, we’re still married fifty-seven years later. Unlike me, my wife kept the hundreds of letters I wrote to her in high school, which is a pretty thorough documentation of my teenage years. In my twenties, thirties, and forties, I kept extensive journals, not because I was a writer, but because I found it was a good way to help me figure out all this growing up business.
For twenty years I was a graphic designer/art director, culminating in having my own design firm. Through volunteering with a non-profit organization working with homeless and at-risk children, I was inspired to change careers in midlife and became an elementary school teacher. When I retired from teaching in 2012 at age sixty-two, I began taking a memoir writing class. Suddenly I found my new passion: writing. Since that time, I’ve written about 300 vignettes and short stories. I like to say that they are 300 stories in search of a book.
I love writing about my childhood, especially growing up in San Diego. Incidentally, I’m long past the need to write that Peyton Place type revenge book; I think age and therapy has gotten me past that need. Instead, I like to focus on the best and golden nostalgic times of my baby boomer youth. I was honored when asked to become a contributor on Galaxy Moonbeam Night Site, and I’m very much looking forward to sharing my stories with you.
“A Movie Kind of Love” (Part One)
My dad left when I was ten. Being surrounded with two sisters and my mom, I knew the world through the lens of very strong womanhood. For a short time, I was the “man of the house” which meant I had to do all the crappy work. (Yeah, literally the crappy work of cleaning up the enormous piles of poop from our large Lassie-lookalike Collie dog.) Plus, if there was a strange noise outside, I was expected to go outside and check it out. Being the youngest, smallest member of the family, this made absolutely no sense to me; however, I pumped up my scrawny chest and bravely went on reconnaissance for monsters stalking outside my sisters’ windows. However, I was smart enough to always take my large, intimidating dog with me.
Things would change when Bill entered our lives—first as my mom’s boyfriend, and then as her husband. I welcomed him as my stepfather. Compared to my dad, he was a breath of fresh air. There was no doubt in my mind, why my mom would fall in love with him and prefer him to my dad. My dad was kind of a stick-in-the mud, who rarely smiled or laughed. He was usually pretty cranky and a strict disciplinarian. As an adult, I understand him better. Money was tight, and he often worked two jobs. Since English was not his first language, I think he had a hard time with me being such a precocious, fast-talking kid. Strange as it may sound, I think my dad was frustrated because he couldn’t verbally keep up with me, then out of his frustration, he used his adult power to simply shut me down.
Unlike my dad, Bill was very sophisticated. He had been an officer in the Navy, and had lived in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific. Bill had traveled all over the world, and had dated singer, Patti Page. While my dad was an airplane mechanic, Bill flew fighter jets. He was a bon vivant who shared great stories. But here’s the biggest difference between my dad and Bill: My dad was so concerned about me “talking back” that there wasn’t a lot of conversation between us. Bill, on the other hand, welcomed my stories. Relished them, encouraged them, and laughed whole-heartedly at my boyish adventures. Since he treated me like an adult, I always tried to rise to his level of maturity and sophistication. Bill seemed to always enjoy my company in such a relaxed way. It was such an important lesson for me to see that adults could treat children as equals. Suddenly, I had a positive image of manhood.
Before my dad left, I could always sense the tension between my mom and dad, just by observing them from the middle of the backseat of our car. Plus I can’t recall ever witnessing any signs of affection in their relationship. When Bill came into our lives, my mom suddenly blossomed. It was the simple things I noticed, like her putting her hand on the nape of his neck while he drove. And suddenly there was laughter—lots of laughter—something that was rarely heard from the adults in our house before. And of course, there was the dancing . . .
Being a very urbane and cosmopolitan guy, Bill decided to teach my mom how to dance. Besides how could he take her dancing to the Admiral Kidd Officer’s Club in Point Loma if she didn’t know how to dance?
Mom, Bill, and I would move the heavy, maple coffee table and roll up the braided area rug to transform our living room into their own personal mini-ballroom. I would be the DJ in the corner taking their song requests. Their favorite dance song was “Everyone is Somebody’s Fool” by Connie Francis. My job was to pick up the arm of the Webcor record player and replay that song from my Connie Francis album over and over. I loved watching their bodies move in perfect harmony and rhythm. But more than anything, it was a thing of beauty to see my mom so damn happy. It didn’t take a genius —or an adult—to see that these two people were passionately in love.
As a young boy curled up in the corner with my arms around my knees, I would watch Mom and Bill dance for hours. Outside of the movies, this was the first time I had observed what romantic love looked like in real life. Bill was not only affectionate towards my mom, but also warm and affectionate towards me. I guess we were both starved for affection.
Besides being charming, Bill was a handsome man. He had classic All-American good looks. When he first moved into our house, my neighborhood friends would say, “Your stepdad looks just like John Wayne.” Yeah, he kind of did. Unfortunately, like many a Marlborough Man, Bill would get throat cancer. Too much booze and endless chain-smoking would contribute to his demise. However, to the very end, he remained upbeat and positive about the future, never losing his sense of humor and his ability to hit one-liners out of the ballpark!
Bill would be the first person I ever saw suffering through the ravages of cancer. It was a long, brutal battle. Even in his last days at the San Diego V.A. Hospital, he never gave up the hope of going home and returning to life with my mom, whom he always said, “Was better looking than Marilyn Monroe.”
I was twenty and Bill was fifty-one when he died in 1970. It was a strange dichotomy to feel so young and seeing my life ahead of me, while his life had ended. I loved him and missed him, but I never realized his huge influence on my life until many years later. Of course, my favorite memory will always be of Mom and Bill dancing together in the living room of our Rolando Park home. With me sitting in the corner, thoroughly enthralled, thinking that perhaps true love really could exist . . . just like in the movies.